Philadelphia’s Lemon Hill mansion has elegantly stood on a spectacular bluff above the Schuylkill River for more than 200 years, affording its visitors with unrivalled views of the river below and the city beyond. Today, the mansion’s extraordinary double-hung windows frame Philadelphia’s most iconic sites: Boat House Row, the Fairmount Waterworks, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Freeman's is pleased to be offering furnishings from this historic home in our November 16 auction American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts. The history of Lemon Hill is inextricably linked to that of Fairmount Park and of Philadelphia. The auction of the furnishings of Lemon Hill is a unique opportunity to retell and to celebrate this history. It is a privilege for Freeman’s, another creation of Federal-era Philadelphia, to handle this extraordinary collection.
During its extensive and impressive history, the mansion has functioned as an idyllic country villa, ice cream parlor, restaurant, private residence, and presently, a house museum. The best known of Fairmount Park’s many historic houses, Lemon Hill is recognized by preservationists for its architectural significance, as well as by runners, cyclists, and cross-country teams as the building inside “the Lemon Hill Loop.”
Henry Pratt (1761-1838), a Philadelphia merchant and horticulturalist, built Lemon Hill mansion as a fashionable riverside retreat. His 1799 design incorporated the latest in neoclassical architectural forms and captured the optimism and energy of the Federal era in the city. At that time, Philadelphia was the commercial, cultural and political center of the new nation, serving as its Capitol until 1800. As the vibrant “Athens of the Western world,” it was America’s most cosmopolitan city, and both Pratt and Lemon Hill embodied the sense of style so important to that vigorous era. The mansion was purchased by the city of Philadelphia in 1855.
The Colonial Dames of America, Chapter II (founded in 1895) took charge of the daily operations and maintenance of Lemon Hill transforming the mansion into a most believable historic site—restoring the mansion to the splendid riverside villa Pratt envisioned it to be, recreating for its visitors the sense of escape formerly enjoyed by the 19th century gentry. Since 1957, a group of highly appropriate and sophisticated Federal and Classical period furniture, decorative arts and paintings, was carefully selected to furnish the mansion. Although the selections include a variety of items imported from outside the city—Chinese export porcelain and paintings, Anglo-Irish glassware, and mid-Atlantic furniture—the core of the Lemon Hill property is either made in Philadelphia or has a strong Philadelphia provenance. Many objects have historic ties to Wakefield built in 1798 (originally located at Ogontz and Lindley Avenues) for the prominent Fisher family and destroyed by fire in 1985.
One of the original missions of The Colonial Dames of America, Chapter II, was funding scholarships for secondary education. As the financial obligations of maintaining Lemon Hill increased, scholarship funding decreased. With the goal of returning to its mission of scholarship subsidy, the Colonial Dames will be offering the furnishings of Lemon Hill at Freeman’s November 16 American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts auction, with the collection is represented in the first 91 lots of the sale. All proceeds from the sale will go to their scholarship fund.